STEVE INSKEEP, host:
People who live in Iraq have been looking for answers amid all the violence, and that has sparked a resurgence of interest in self-proclaimed psychics, fortunetellers and healers.
NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Baghdad.
COREY FLINTOFF: Fortunetelling is haram, forbidden in Islam. But for people who want personal answers to their problems, there are soothsayers in nearly every neighborhood.
Madame WARDA (Fortuneteller): (Foreign language spoken)
FLINTOFF: Madame Warda reads the dregs of a coffee cup for a neighbor in her cluttered house in the Karada district. The woman wants to know about a relative who's been kidnapped. Where is he? Is he still alive? If he's dead, where can we find his body? The coffee cup holds comparatively good news.
Madame WARDER: (Through translator) Look dear, he's in jail. He's been arrested by the government. He'll be back. You'll hear from him soon.
FLINTOFF: One fairly safe prediction in Iraq is to say that a person's life is shadowed by danger. This is, after all, a country where it's cause for comment when someone dies a natural death. And people in danger sometimes resort to charms.
FLINTOFF: At his family's antique shop in al-Wathit Square, Ammar Hassan sells rings and stones that are reputed to ward off danger and cure diseases.
Mr. AMMAR HASSAN: (Through translator) Like amber, this is use to cure hepatitis in all its forms. Coral and turquoise are also used. But many customers come to me and ask for a certain kind of stone to help them solve a certain problem, like a family or money problem.
FLINTOFF: Though he deals in stones, Hassan says he doesn't believe that their properties are magical.
Mr. HASSAN: (Through translator) Sometimes people need a psychological crutch to have self-confidence so they search for that crutch in a stone, although this may not be scientifically true.
FLINTOFF: Some people believe in objects, some in words.
Layla Musled al-Nassiri(ph) is 29 and a college graduate, who says she comes to her fortuneteller for what people in the West might regard as talk therapy.
Ms. LAYLA MUSLED AL-NASSIRI: (Through translator) Sometimes you can't reveal your inner self to anyone, not even your family, because living in awful conditions, as we Iraqis do, we're all tired. Our nerves are wracked. We're seeking for someone who can listen to us.
FLINTOFF: Al-Nassiri brings her problems to a Baghdad tenement crowded with squatters, where the stairwells reek of urine and trash.
Her fortuneteller, Madame Janet, is a spare, tidy woman in her mid-70s. She's an Iraqi Christian. And though her religion, like Islam, frowns on fortunetelling, she lays out her cards under the eyes of Jesus on the cross and pictures of the Virgin Mary.
Layla al-Nassiri says Iraqi life is so uncertain that people will violate their deeply held religious convictions in hopes of getting answers.
Ms. AL-NASSIRI: (Through translator) Because we can't understand what is happening around us, everything defies explanation.
FLINTOFF: Madame Janet's predictions aren't reassuring and she insists her warnings mustn't be ignored.
Madame JANET (Fortuneteller): (Through translator) I once told a man not to go to a certain place, but he didn't listen to me. I told him, they'll kill you if you go there. Two days later, his friend came to tell me that he'd been killed.
FLINTOFF: Which raises a question: What good is it to know your fate if you can't take steps to change it? Back to the stone seller Amar Hassan.
Mr. HASSAN: (Through translator) I've heard there are stones that can protect a man against gunshots. People have told me they tried these stones on animals such as chickens and sheep. The animals were shot at but escaped unhurt. They swear they saw it happen with their own eyes.
FLINTOFF: And how much would someone pay for a stone that wards off bullets?
Mr. HASSAN: (Through translator) If they needed it desperately, they'd pay a lot.
FLINTOFF: The Prophet Muhammad said that fortunetellers and sorcerers lie, even when they tell the truth. But in Baghdad these days it seems a lot of people are listening.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.
INSKEEP: NPR's Israel Rubbai(ph) and Kaist Jalili(ph) contributed to this report.
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